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I Am a Professional Hugger And This Is What I Have Learned

Hugging shows our bravest aspects and helps us to learn boundaries.

Did you know you can buy a hug? Yes, there are people who are happy to invade your personal space, with your permission, for a living. Nothing creepy—we're talking about therapeutic touch session with a trained professional practitioner, or as they like to call it "human contact coaching."

Why would anyone pay for a hug? "Touch certainly reduces cortisol levels at moments of stress. And just think about when you see these terrible stories about calamities that have happened—hurricanes, floods, shootings—and you see how perfect strangers are coming together, and they're hugging one another, or they're putting their arms around one another," Linda Mayes, MD, who is chair of the Yale Child Study Center, tells Eat This, Not That! Health. Stress is one thing; another is the fact that, according to a study published in International Psychogeriatrics, 3 out of 4 Americans feel lonely and when one feels lonely, a hug certainly helps. "It's a kind of social connectedness. It does reduce stress. It brings us together, and in those kinds of moments, almost the social convention is off—it may be okay to go up and hug a stranger," says Mayes.

Some scientists are even talking about touch starvation epidemics which may be the reason why companies like Cuddlist or the more social-events oriented Cuddle Party have no problems with getting customers. "Cuddlist has over 1,400 people on our training program. Our membership, which consists of those who have successfully completed the training and have chosen to subscribe to our membership for a monthly rate, has been averaging about 150 people at any given time. We currently have members in over 40 states and five countries," Madelon Guinazzo, Director of Training for Cuddlist, tells Eat This, Not That! Health.

So what do they do exactly? The Snuggle Buddies describe their service as "platonic touch that offer a personalized experience…cuddle for friendship, relaxation, or therapeutic reasons." The standard session includes "cuddling, snuggling, conversation, friendly massage, platonic outside dates to dinner, movies, etc. Any platonic activity you would do with a friend is acceptable" and costs $80 per hour. Skype talk sessions (only "friendly and platonic") are cheaper or one can book an overnight session that costs $330 for 8 hours ("approx. 5 hrs are sleeping"). As long as you are abiding by the code of conduct, creativity is allowed. "Sometimes it looks like massages, playing games, dancing, singing, having a meal, reading aloud to one another, eye gazing, etc." they say. 

Personal touch may get awkward even when you are trying to bear hug your brother in law, not to mention an 8 hours long sleep session with a stranger — so how do professionals make sure that this is not an issue?  "The most essential ingredient, in a word, is: Boundaries. This is the focus of our training," Madelon Guinazzo, Director of Training for Cuddlist, tells the Remedy. "In addition to the Cuddlist Code of Conduct, at the beginning of each session the practitioner goes over an Opening Agreement which is a commitment of each person to hold their own boundaries during every part of the session and to communicate with them. This is an important part of the empowerment that our practitioners offer their clients and what makes it therapeutic," Guinazzo says. 

And who applies for such services? "Clients come for a wide variety of reasons. Most are touch deprived for one reason or another. Some have had difficult experiences with touch, are averse to it and want to shift that. Some are in relationships where their partners do not want to provide touch and they want to maintain the integrity and commitments with their partners. This is a safe option. Some are grieving the loss of a partner to die to death or separation and this helps them grow through that transition. Many simply feel isolated by their jobs and their lifestyles and want more meaningful authentic human connection. In some way or another they all want to feel closer to their authentic selves," Guinazzo says. 

We wanted to know what she's learned as a professional hugger and Guinazzo was kind enough to help us reach out to the network of Cuddlist practitioners from the whole country and one from Australia. Here's what they told us.

Everyone Needs It

"As a professional cuddler, I have learned how to provide safe, nurturing touch for clients from many walks of life and with differing needs. This is done primarily by practicing healthy boundaries with them in sessions, while simultaneously addressing their touch needs, be it touch deprivation or touch aversion. With my clients ranging in age from 18-80 years and of every gender and sexual orientation, there is a massive need in America for people to exchange platonic touch with a professional who can meet them with a compassionate embrace." 

Robin, Lawrence, KS 

Touch Make Us Feel Human

"What I've learned as a professional cuddler has been the deep and persistent need that people have for touch. It's undeniable that we as social creatures need touch not only for well-being but also for survival. It is through touch that we know our humanness, our connection with others, and that we belong, that we belong to each other. Touch is extremely powerful." 

Janet, San Antonio, TX 

It Shows That We Care

"I've learned that nurturing human touch is medicine for our souls. Connecting and being present with another and showing unconditional care is healing. It is the best way to let someone know that they matter, offering a feeling of well being by putting unity in humanity."

Jennifer, Philadelphia, PA 

Hugging Is Empowering

"I learned just how fast, healing and transformational this work is. Clients leave a session feeling empowered and renewed. I later hear how they slept better, faced and overcame longstanding challenges and obstacles in their lives, felt more connected in their relationships and are now living a happier and healthier life. The benefit of this work for myself is being a part of helping people see these kinds of positive life changes occur." 

James, Minneapolis, MN 

Successful People Also Need a Hug

"I realized that so few people have a diverse enough support network. I'm not just talking about the person that doesn't leave the house all day, but even the successful law firm owner or the tech CEO or the infamous wine connoisseur. These high-profile people have a full life and they seem to have it all, sure, but in a way, their success prevents them from accessing those support networks as easily as someone that might work for them. I call this the 'pedestal effect' and this is exactly why some of my clients come to see me."

Sam, Medford, MA 

We Bring Work Home

"In the two years that I have been doing this work, I realized that people who are already in talk therapy benefit so much from the addition of touch! When someone is doing work on themselves and healing through therapy, being able to trust a professional with their boundaries is integral to their growth. Cuddling helps to unwind trauma and bring a peace that talking alone misses. I have never known more rewarding work."

Mare, Pasadena, CA 

Hugging Allows You To Learn Boundaries

"I've learned numerous things in my time as a professional cuddler. They include the following:

  1. Boundaries: Being clear about them upfront saves confusion and hurt feelings later. In order to be clear with someone else about your boundaries, you have to be really clear about them for yourself.
  2. No: Saying no can be hard sometimes. Hearing no can be harder. Cuddling has really helped me to hear 'no' and be able to celebrate it. To be able to acknowledge that someone else is holding their boundary, and taking care of themselves, is a real gift. And knowing that their 'no' has nothing to do with me, but has to do with them and their boundaries, makes it so much easier to celebrate hearing no.
  3. Asking for what you want: when you're comfortable hearing no, it's so much easier to ask for what you want. And when you are clear about what you want, and ask for it boldly and clearly, you're more likely to get it. If you hear a no, you accept that and you move on and ask for it from someone else."

Grace, Orange, CA 

It Shows Our Most Bravest Aspects

"1. When you give people the opportunity to show up with the bravest, kindest version of themself… They do! I am sometimes asked if I feel safe with my clients, if they ever disrespect my boundaries. The thing is, the answer is no. It is deep in our nature to be safe with and for other humans. In the prepared environment of a connection session, and with clear communication, our best, kindest, bravest, most beautiful aspects of ourselves show up again and again.

  1. "No" is a prerequisite to a real "Yes."

A profound realization that occurred during my certification training is—like many Earth-shattering realizations—so simple! If a person doesn't feel safe to say no, then their yes is of no consequence. The option of No is essential to the concept of Yes.

  1. Without a strong sense of self, healthy boundaries are impossible. Without an understanding of one's own boundaries, consent is impossible. So much of the work that I do is about holding a safe space for an individual to heal their relationship with self, so they can be empowered to connect with others in healthy, consensual ways." 

Maryam, Portland, OR 

It Helps Us Enjoy Our Life in Full

"In my two-plus years of giving one on one Certified Cuddlist sessions I have learned a lot for a happy life relies on a person's ability to ask for what they want in the moment, truthfully connect to their boundaries and express them to others and follow the flow of desire to inspire them to the next moment. We've become very good at numbing down intimacy, even hiding from it. What I'm wanting to bring, nurture and receive with people in my session is that meeting place in which humans can ask for what human connection they have been thirsting for. When people are able to fully ask for what they want, without shame they are able to participate in and receive the fullness of life." 

Sarah, Melbourne, Australia 

It Improved My Relationships

"As a Cuddlist Certified Professional Cuddler I've learned that direct communication cuts a very clear path for healthy relationships. It wasn't until I started cuddling that I had the training and role models to move from frustrating personal relationships to quality experiences with the people in my life, including my clients." 

Michelle, Baltimore, MD

It Brings Happy Tears

"I have the opportunity to see firsthand the importance of touch. When a seemingly simple touch brings tears, I experience deep longing and lack so many people live with along with the safety and comfort our service provides. It is a privilege to have the trust of my clients."

Gaia, Hopkinton, MA

And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these 60 Secrets Nurses Don't Want You to Know.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek